Studio Pelikan

I was lucky enough to have a chance to visit Studio Pelikan in Celje, Slovenia last week – one of the few remaining and best preserved daylight photo studios in Europe. It was built in 1899 and sold to Josip Pelikan in 1919, who continued to work in it until he died in 1977.

The building is by no means large, but has purpose-built areas for reception, darkroom and retouching on the ground floor, and a stove-heated atelier accessed by a narrow spiral staircase on the first floor. There are 3 or 4 large moveable hand-painted background panels, and many small curtains on the glass wall and ceiling enabling fine adjustment of the natural lighting to suit the subject. Mr. Pelikan’s equipment is still laid out ready for use, including some beautiful old wood and brass cameras and covetable lenses. The whole building is neatly presented and maintained and has clearly been well looked after by its guardians, the Museum of Recent History, Celje, since its opening to the public in 1989.

The darkroom noticeably has no enlarger – in those days the camera was chosen to suit the size of print required; the glass negative was then simply contact-printed in daylight. The larger cameras in use required a lot of space, and the biggest is pointed across the room from corner to corner in order to capture a full-length figure – just. The bulk of Pelikan’s portrait work seems to have been shot on full plate or similar size.

A little fact which I enjoyed is that at one time, Mr. Pelikan ran two studios, the other was in a nearby village. However the ‘other’ studio was lit from the opposite side, so that when looking back through Pelikan’s portraits you can immediately tell which studio he took them in. I conjure mental images of this client or that being hurried off to the 'left hand' or 'right hand' studio for a more flattering light...

Josip Pelikan’s name is clearly well respected locally; he spent much time and effort in his day documenting the notable buildings, landmarks and trades of the region, by which work he is mainly remembered. Well worth a visit for any enthusiast of vintage photography passing through the area – Celje is a quiet and pleasant town a little over an hour by train from the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana.